Some weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the annual conference of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA). It was my first time.
The audience was mostly professors, students, and academics in the field of non-profit and social entrepreneurship from all over the world. The content was rich, enlightening, and useful. I would definitely encourage anyone in the academic field, and even at the strategic level of the non-profit practitioner field to attend. The information is powerful for strategic decision makers in the non-profit and social entrepreneurship spaces.
There were about 10 tracks each day. The conference spans over a week. I got in late Thursday night and attended interfaith tracks on Friday and Social Entrepreneurship tracks on Saturday. The format of the sessions was great. There would be 3-5 presenters who would have 15-20 minutes to present their research. They would present their problem statement, hypothesis, research, and findings. Then the audience would discuss in a question and answer format with the presenter. I learned a great deal. Here are some key highlights from my notes:
- Data still shows religious people donate more and volunteer more.
- In a study of 5000 organizations, when asked about their budget, 90% discussed it. This tells us that most non-profits are comfortable talking and sharing info about their budget.
- There is a big challenge right now in trying to get the research in the hands of practitioners
- Need to take practitioners of non-profit work more seriously. Need to let them talk more to get a better understanding of why they do what they do.
- Need more cross pollination of religious leaders and volunteers from all faiths.
Social entrepreneurship sessions:
- Social entrepreneurs create both social and commercial value.
- Draw on traditional institutional logic and non-profit institutional logic.
- Commercial mission vs social mission. Some are single vs dual focused
- Some have their activities integrated vs not integrated (the social work is outside the commercial work)
- Impact investor’s support social enterprises. This space is growing.
- They struggle with legitimacy
- Previous non-profit experience is the greatest predictor of someone becoming a social entrepreneur.
Equally powerful is the opportunity to engage with attendees at anytime. There is the atmosphere of “curiosity” and learning that is contagious. I met so many amazing people and learned so much. I’m sitting at my desk back in my office already translating what I learned into my own context for implementation.
I hope I have an opportunity to attend again in the future.